Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 - Motion to Regret

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 4th July 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health) 7:45 pm, 4th July 2016

My Lords, I was most interested in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, and in particular his gallant admiration of his colleague the Public Health Minister, who in my experience has usually been quite on top of her brief. I venture to warn the noble Lord never to make a mistake in your Lordships’ House, because I suspect that Facebook might be watching. I was also very moved by his defence—in fact it was quite tear-jerking—of the discrimination against the multi-billion pound tobacco companies compared to the multi-billion pound pharmaceutical companies.

I agree with much of what was said by the noble Lords, Lord Callanan and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, about the desirability of encouraging smokers to give up smoking. There is no doubt that vaping devices have an enormous role to play in this campaign, as many former smokers have managed to give up through using them. However, the regulations are not just about vaping devices but include, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out, standardised packaging regulations, which are essential for ensuring the effectiveness of the health information and warnings on cigarette packs. They also help to enable the UK to meet its obligations as a party to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control with respect to tobacco packaging and labelling, and product regulation.

There is no doubt that vaping devices have already been an enormous benefit to public health—although I fail to see why we need 25,000 different kinds of them—and have saved the NHS a great deal of money. When the directive to which these regulations give effect was first discussed in the European Parliament, as has been said, the Liberal group, which contained at that time several Liberal Democrat MEPs, worked hard to ensure that while the regulation of tobacco packaging continued to be robust, the regulations about vaping devices would be proportionate. Given that the original proposals followed the World Health Organization’s recommendation that these products should be licensed as medicines and would therefore be extremely tightly regulated, the Liberal group had some considerable success in making them a bit more proportionate, resulting in the directive as it is now. However, one of the things on which the group was not successful was the prohibition of commercial advertising of vaping products. This is the major item contained in my regret Motion.

According to the Royal College of Physicians, vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and half of all smokers die from diseases that result from smoking. That is why it is vital that smokers can get information about these products and their benefits, and I regret very much that publicity about them is to be restricted. However, I support the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his call for a new public information programme to inform smokers of the benefits of switching to e-cigarettes. It may surprise your Lordships to know that half of smokers are not aware of how much safer for their health e-cigarettes are. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in regretting the cutting of smoking cessation services—one of the many results of the public health funding cuts which I have condemned many times in your Lordships’ House.

I suppose that one of the reasons for the advertising ban is the fear that advertising will attract young people to vaping even though they have never smoked. This is of course undesirable, because nicotine vapour is very addictive, and I would not want to see children being attracted to spending their money on something so addictive and with no known benefits to their health. Indeed, more research needs to be done on the effect of nicotine inhalation combined with the various flavouring chemicals used in e-cigarettes. Some evidence is emerging that if inhaled, some of the flavourings may be harmful to the delicate cells lining the lungs. But although e-cigarettes have been around for years, there is no significant evidence that they are attracting non-smokers to take them up. On the other hand, we now have a large and growing cohort of people who use vaping devices, which is why I call on the Government to fund research on the benefits and—if there are any—the dangers of vaping.

Everything should be done to encourage smokers to switch to vaping, which is why my Motion also regrets that little attention has been paid to those vapers who claim that they need the higher-end concentration of nicotine products, which would be banned by some of these regulations, to help them give up smoking. Only time will tell whether that is the case. That is why the Government need to monitor and report on the implementation of these regulations and their impact on public health. While the further regulations on cigarette packaging are likely to be good, those on vaping devices could turn out to be bad.

Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I do not support the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan—that the Government should withdraw these regulations—because we need the ones that affect tobacco. However, although I sincerely regret the Government’s current intention to withdraw from the European Union in the fullness of time and hope very much that it never happens, the current situation does give us an opportunity. As things stand we are not able to keep the good tobacco regulations and ditch the undesirable ones, but the forthcoming negotiations do give us an opportunity to do a bit of cherry-picking.

I therefore ask the Minister, what is the Government’s intention with regard to these and other EU regulations? Do they plan to adopt them all and then repeal the ones they do not like? If so, I call on the Government to consider carefully any deterrent to smokers switching that might result from these regulations, and to repeal the ones that deter them as soon as possible. Of course, that would require careful monitoring and publication of the results. On the other hand, in the unlikely event that the Government plan to repeal all EU regulations and then adopt new UK ones, I call on them to replace only the ones that affect tobacco packaging and marketing to further decrease the public health burden of tobacco and the terrible effects on the health of individuals and the NHS.

Given that all these regret Motions are non-fatal, I do not intend to vote on mine, although if the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, votes on his, my colleagues and I will vote against it. We are where we are. What matters now is what the Government do in future. Lives depend on it.